Well fit to run after battle with cancer

Darren McMahon, having been treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is back on his feet and race ready


Darren McMahon is 26 years old and will be competing in the Colour Dash 5km run in aid of the Irish Cancer Society this weekend. While this doesn’t seem like an extraordinary challenge for a man of his age, the fact that four years ago, he was battling for his life, makes his efforts seem a lot more heroic.

In December 2010, the Clare man was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and for several months was incapable of much more than attending sessions of chemotherapy.

However, while dumbfounded by his diagnosis, McMahon channelled his limited energy levels into surviving the treatment and getting back on his feet.

“In the summer of 2010, I was over in London and noticed that I had a bit of a lump in my neck,” he recalls.

“I didn’t think too much about it at the time and even though I had begun to feel very tired all the time, had lost my appetite and a good deal of weight, I still wasn’t too worried and carried on with my life.

“But that winter I was at home in Ennis and I noticed that I had a lump on the other side of my neck. At this point I started wondering if something might be wrong and decided to visit my GP who immediately referred me for a biopsy in University Hospital Limerick.

“He was very positive and told me not to worry and, above all, to stay away from checking my symptoms online. But of course as soon as I got home that is exactly what I did and was shocked to discover that I had all the signs of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is particularly common in males aged between 17 and 22.”


McMahon – who lives with his parents, Deirdre and Jacko – was called for the biopsy but the results were inconclusive so the test had to be redone. This time there was no mistaking the fact that he had a very serious disease.

“I had my first keyhole biopsy in December 2010 and when no information was gained from that, I had another one a week later,” he recalls. “This time a whole nodule was taken out and when I was called back to get the results, I was told that I had stage 3 lymphoma – which meant that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes but not the blood, which was where it would have gone next.

“Because I had Googled my symptoms, I was somewhat prepared for the news but it came as a big shock to my parents – particularly my mum who was really emotional. Dad was more level-headed, so much in fact that he said it was better that it happened to me rather than my siblings – Graham (19), Hazel (29) and Eli (33) – as he knew I would be able to cope.

“It may sound strange, but that is how we dealt with the issue at the time. We found out the facts and then wanted to get on with treatment as soon as possible.

“We were even joking about it on the way home and I told my parents that these were the worst test results I had received since my Leaving Cert. Lightening the mood was how we coped with the news because allowing ourselves to be distressed wouldn’t have achieved anything.”

McMahon, who works as a graphic designer, began a six-month course of chemotherapy on Christmas Eve 2010 and while the festive season was a little subdued for the family, he was anxious to begin treatment as soon as possible.

“I was given the option whether to wait until the new year or begin chemo straight away and I decided that the sooner I got started, the sooner I would be finished, so I had my first round that Christmas Eve,” he says.

“I felt very sick afterwards but it was important for me to be doing something positive. I also shaved my head when my hair started to fall out.

“Initially I was supposed to have eight chemo sessions but after six, the cancer had been eradicated so I had my last one in May 2011 and the following month, I got the all clear.”


It took McMahon at least a year to begin to feel well again and in 2012, he decided to get involved with fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society.

Having grown a moustache for the Movember fundraiser, he discovered a link for the inaugural Colour Dash in 2013 and decided to start training.

“It took me a while to recover and even now I still suffer from fatigue, but thankfully the cancer is gone,” he says.

“I started doing a little bit of exercise in 2012 and when I found out about the Colour Dash I decided that a 5km run would be a good thing for me to aim for as my lung capacity was low and I can’t run for long distances.

“So last year, I went up to Dublin to take part in the Dash and it was such a brilliant day out that I am doing it again this year.

“There was such a good atmosphere at the event as everyone was there for the same reason and the different colours thrown at you at each kilometre really highlight what the Irish Cancer Society does and how cancer affects everyone.

“Obviously I would rather not have had cancer, but I am very grateful for my health now and would encourage everyone to either take part in the Colour Dash or come and support it. The day is great fun and it’s for such a good cause that there is no reason not to.”

Colour dash What is it?

Colour Dash takes place in the Phoenix Park, Dublin on Saturday.

It is a 5km “dash” where participants of all ages run, walk or jog the course, starting off wearing a white T-shirt which is quickly transformed into a work of art. At each kilometre, a different colour powder representing a different cancer is thrown at participants, creating a kaleidoscope of colour.

Last year 2,000 people took part and raised €100,000 for the ICS. This year, the numbers are set to be higher and other venues will be announced later in the summer.

To get involved in the Irish Cancer Society’s Colour Dash, with backers Crown Paints and Spin 1038, visit cancer.ie